Eastern Durham pasta

Jul. 30, 2013 @ 08:07 AM

When The Kid was home, I made a big batch of pink sauce studded with Italian sausage.  I like Gunnoe’s, but haven’t seen it in stores for years.  Now I buy sausage at Costco.  The sauce calls for about twelve links, but because it came from Costco, I have enough left in my freezer to open my own sandwich stand at the next state fair.

There used to be a restaurant near my house, Manchester’s, that delivered.  Sometimes, on weekend nights when The Kid and I had more money than energy, we’d give ‘em a call.

My favorite dish on the menu was Northern Italian Pasta.  Instead of red sauce, it was cream based.  It had grilled chicken, sausage, mushrooms, and sundried tomatoes.  They served it over fettuccine.  I loved it, but because of the cream sauce, it was only good fresh.  Nuking it produced a gloppy, greasy, separated mess.

The other night I decided to make it at home.  I had all the ingredients on hand except for mushrooms and chicken.  I picked up some mushrooms, and decided to leave out Henny Penny.

Before the recipe, I’d like to talk about some of the ingredients.

Pasta: Since the recipe is pretty hardy, use whole wheat thin spaghetti.  If you’ve never tried whole wheat pasta, you need to find your favorite.  Some brands are so good I can’t tell it’s whole wheat, but some brands are gritty, and resemble the cardboard box in which they’re packed.

Sundried tomatoes:  Tomatoes have flavors that are alcohol soluble.  That means unless they are exposed to spirits, some of the notes will never develop.

Mushrooms:  I happened upon some button mushrooms that were quite small.  I stemmed them, cleaned them and kept them whole.  They’re more attractive, and similar in size to the sausage.  If you can’t find little ones, quarter or thickly slice them for a similar effect.

Sausage: Before cutting it, I use a trick from my Aunt Polly to get rid of some of the fat, and facilitate easier slicing.  I puncture each link a couple of times with a fork, drop in a pot of water, cover, and cook at medium for twenty minutes.  This is called par-cooking.

I slice the sausage on a bias.  Turn the link to a 45 degree angle, and cut ½ inch slices.   

Eastern Durham Pasta

1 pound whole wheat thin spaghetti

4-5 links Italian sausage, par-cooked then bias sliced into ½ inch slices

2 tablespoons olive oil

½ pound button mushrooms

½ yellow onion, chopped

1 ½ teaspoons dried thyme

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped

5 garlic cloves, minced

1/3 cup sundried tomatoes

¾ cup Marsala wine

2 cups (1 pint) heavy cream

1/3 cup skim milk (this keeps the sauce from separating)

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for service

Salt and freshly cracked pepper

Fill large pot with water, salt heavily and set aside.  Heat a second large heavy pot and add oil.  When oils shimmers, add ‘shrooms and onion, and season with s&p.  Add herbs to pot.  When the veg are lightly caramelized, add sausage.  Cook until the meat starts to brown.  Add garlic and stir until it begins to give off aroma.

Deglaze pot with wine, scraping up brown bits (called fond) and cook on medium-high ‘til the wine is completely absorbed.

Pour in cream, skim milk, and add cheese.  Stir, let come to a boil, then lower heat to medium.  Partially cover to keep sauce from spray painting your entire kitchen, and let reduce.

At this point, bring salted water to a rolling boil, and add pasta.  Cook on medium for 10-12 minutes, or until it’s not quite done.

By now, your sauce should have thickened to a rich, clingy consistency (if not, turn down pasta to give sauce a bit more time).  Taste for seasoning.

Using tongs or slotted spoon, transfer spaghetti directly to bubbling sauce and toss to coat.  Reduce heat, and cook until pasta is ready.

Pour onto large platter, or individual plates, top with grated or shaved cheese, and serve with salad.

Makes 5 servings.

We had leftovers, but I was a bit nervous about how the sauce would fare when reheated.  I added a couple of splashes of skim milk, a bit of grated cheese, and microwaved to hot. 

It worked great; almost like fresh. 

I miss Manchester’s delivery, but at least now I can eat a close approximation of that dish I loved so much.

Thanks for your time.


Debbie Matthews lives, writes and cooks in Durham. Her email address is momsequitur@gmail.com.